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Will The Facebook Ad Boycott Have An Impact?

by Kate Sparks
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America has a grand tradition of boycotting businesses who’ve been naughty, and an even grander tradition of forcing corporations to grow a conscience by withholding cold, hard cash. Facebook, for the past several years, has been very naughty, indeed. The American thirst for retribution is perhaps even higher now than it was during the Cambridge Analytica scandal of 2018.

It makes sense, then, that the official boycott of Facebook is scheduled to take effect this week, beginning July 1st and lasting for the entire month of July. The boycott feverishly encourages advertisers to “Stop Hate for Profit” by removing their ads – and consequently, their sweet, sweet ad revenue – from Facebook-owned properties. As of today, June 30th, the boycott campaign has swelled to include an impressive 270 companies.

Needless to say, Mark Zuckerberg might need a change of pants soon. There’s nothing that should delight good, hardworking and patriotic Americans more than watching Facebook go down in flames. Consumed as we are with so much cultural anxiety, in the midst of an economic catastrophe and a global pandemic, we now face a blissful respite from our worries, in the form of revenge.

The boycott is a group effort that’s been years in the making. It’s organized largely by civil rights and human advocacy groups, including the NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League. It places the blame for our current political quagmire squarely and directly on the intensely hateable shoulders of tech goliath Facebook, for standing idly by while hate speech and misinformation spread like wildfire across the platform.

During the early stages of last month’s Black Lives Matter protests, President Trump’s “looting … shooting” post created an active incitement to violence, which of course, Facebook handled swiftly and righteously, removing the post immediately and showing support for marginalized Americans.

PSYCH! Facebook did nothing, which is what Facebook always does. 

According to the Stop Hate for Profit website, Facebook is guilty of failing to act but also of actively making things much, much worse.  Facebook called the notoriously unhinged right-wing circus known as Breitbart News a ‘trusted news source’ and labeled The Daily Caller a ‘fact-checker,’ which is like calling David Duke a concerned skeptic of civil rights advocacy. Both Breitbart News and The Daily Caller have long, cringy records of collaborating with white supremacists, spreading lies and misinformation, and advancing racist, bigoted, hurtful political ideologies that move American intellectual thought backward by leaps and bounds with every single article they publish.

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But back to Facebook, which has become merely our most current and buzzworthy iteration of right-wing propaganda writ large.

In addition to the boycott guidelines and mission statements, Stop Hate for Profit has published a laundry list of bright ideas for how to make things better when working within Facebooks’ parameters, including:

  • better content moderation across all media (posts, pages, groups, comments, etc)
  • moderation of private groups – groups that tend to be breeding grounds for extremist, hateful ideologies and generally terrible ideas (Flat Earth Society, anyone?)
  • giving advertisers a heads up when their ads appear on the same page as content that’s later deemed to be hateful or deliberately misleading

Given the nature of the boycott, you might be tempted to think this is purely a partisan issue. You’d be forgiven for thinking this boycott is only for businesses of a certain political affinity, left-leaning companies or liberal businesses that tend to lean Democratic, rather than Republican. But as it turns out, Facebook is universally loathed by people on both sides of the aisle. In a recent Harris poll, Facebook was more despised than Philip Morris, Dish Network, Wells Fargo, and the United States government.

So what companies are participating in the boycott? Oh, you know, just all of the biggest and most famous businesses on earth. Names of the heaviest hitters who have thrown their support behind the boycott include:

  • Starbucks
  • Adidas
  • Reebok
  • Best Buy
  • Clorox
  • Coca-Cola
  • Conagra
  • Diageo (the beverage company)
  • Ford
  • HP
  • Honda
  • Hershey’s
  • The North Face
  • Puma
  • REI
  • Unilever
  • Verizon
  • Levi’s
  • Patagonia
  • Pepsi
  • Pfizer

Notably, Microsoft has not yet joined the official boycott, but as seen in internal company documents obtained by Axios, that’s only because Microsoft has been conducting a de facto, under-the-radar Facebook boycott of its own for nearly two months already. Microsoft hasn’t run ads on Facebook or Instagram since May, already deeply concerned about the content that was running alongside their ads.

Bloodless, money-grubbing ghoul and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg held a town hall last Friday where he did what he always does when he sees his company hemorrhaging money: he made a speech full of empty gestures and meaningless vows that came off as insincere (because they were), and that proved to everyone in attendance that Facebook cares far more about appearing to care than actually caring. 

His speech was recognized immediately for the absolute drivel it is.

“Unfortunately, the sum total of these exercises reveal that Facebook has been spending more time on their messaging rather than addressing the underlying problems on the platform,” Stop Hate for Profit stated.

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As deeply cathartic and healing as it would be to watch Facebook file for chapter 11 bankruptcy as a result of this boycott, such a result is highly unlikely. Facebook racked up over $70 billion in revenue last year, most of which was ad revenue collected from a vast field of more than 8 million different advertisers. (Promising early results, however, do show considerable losses, with Facebook’s market value taking a heavy hit on the stock market early this week, and more than $7 billion in ad revenue lost as of June 30th.)

But it’s worth noting one very important fact here: bankrupting Facebook isn’t the point. There’s a much larger, more important, and more consequential goal in mind. The outcome, in turn, is more likely. The boycott aims not so much to make Facebook bleed from its bottom line – although that is, of course, a lovely bonus – but to increase public awareness of the way hate speech, misinformation and blatant propaganda have become normalized, common weapons used by American corporations to make a quick buck. The boycott aims to shine a spotlight on the toxic, corrosive nature of corporate misinformation, and on the way that propaganda erodes not only our businesses but our society as a whole.

When our biggest businesses encourage misinformation and devalue honesty, our democracy grows weaker. When our corporations cheapen the value of the truth, our entire society is cheapened in the process. Corporations’ callous disregard for the impact that profiteering and propagandizing has on our social, political and cultural institutions – institutions which are, in today’s high-tech world, increasingly interdependent and tied together by digital forces – is a serious enough issue that it deserves a serious, considered, and collective response. A response built on group effort and genuine concern, not just four ourselves or our bottom lines, but for each other. With increased public awareness of this issue comes an increased demand for truth and justice, and a stronger resolve in our society to treat ourselves and each other better.

To examine the way we speak to each other, and to strive to communicate with honesty, dignity, and grace.

To set an example for younger generations and to undo some of the massive damage done by these fast-paced, digitally evolving platforms of misinformation and bigotry.

Or at the very least, if we can’t undo the damage – we can certainly learn from our mistakes and prevent it from happening again in the future.

With good digital practices and a renewed commitment to truth, corporate integrity, and factual information, we can slowly but surely heal the collective wounds of Facebook’s influence.  With diligence and sustained effort, we can become the kind of society where Facebook is contained to the realm of personal (rather than political) social media, connecting families and friends, and where it no longer has the power to spread conspiracy theories, elect corrupt politicians, or provide safe harbors for the world’s most poisonous people.

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